Reader: What were some of your inspirations for the characters?
I have a very hard time picturing faces. My characters are more familiar to me on a spiritual level than on a physical level. But their physical characteristics are usually developed according to their personalities. Lark: small, delicate. Grey-eyed. Ashy colored hair. She was very much like air or ice. Silent, quiet. unobtrusive.
Tiras: Physically powerful, sharp-featured. More striking than beautiful, but he grows in beauty, at least in Lark's eyes. I have a Pinterest board for this book that was simply awesome to create. I am constantly adding new pictures.
Reader: Did you incorporate or weave parts of the Bible into your storyline?
The underlying inspiration for this book was the scripture from the bible that you see in the header of Chapter One: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
That is so incredibly powerful! I have this scripture on the wall of my office, because it’s so relevant to me. If the WORD itself is God, then with words, God created worlds. With words, I create worlds. I started to wonder, what if my characters had this power?
The second inspiration was the scripture at the beginning of the book. I took out the words ‘of God’ because it fit a little better for the story to just say the word.
For the word is quick and powerful,
Sharper than any two-edged sword.
Piercing, even to the dividing asunder
Of soul and spirit,
Of joints and marrow.
It is a discerner of the thoughts
And intents of the heart.
There is no one impetus for a story. Ideas are like thin threads that you follow. Each thread leads to another thread, and another, and another. Eventually you weave the threads together, and they become a story. I often have ideas for scenes – for instance, the scene where Tiras is in the dungeon, chained, resisting something (the reader doesn’t know what) and this seemingly helpless girl is locked in the dungeon with him. That scene was one of the first scenes that came to me when I was trying to build the foundation of the story.
Reader: There is great power in words and the way that was used as in the story was fascinating to me. Speaking without words or through actions but also the physical manifestation of words.
This hearkens back to the scripture, In the beginning was the word. Words are so powerful. Words are the foundation of societies, of civilization, of relationships. You name it, words can make war, words can tame the savage beast . . . . you get the idea. I loved having a story revolve around this power.
Reader: Why did Tiras send the word "Light" to Lark when they first "met" in the forest? Was he really just wanting her to stay until it was light or was he saying she was light? He did tell her later that she glowed.
As Tiras explained to Lark when he reveals his secret in the cottage; “The light helps me change, and change heals me. I just had to make it until dawn. When I changed from eagle to man, you were still lying there beside me.”
The light wasn’t something that caused a shift or controlled the change, but the changing of the light aided the change of the man or the creature. The injured eagle needed all the help he could get to change and heal. He was communicating his desire or his urgency to make it until dawn, when light would give him that little something extra to shift.
Reader: I just LOVE the cover! How did the design come about? Was it your idea?
I wrote my historical, From Sand and Ash, before The Bird and the Sword. My cover artist, Hang Le, and I had a discussion about From Sand and Ash. We discussed how it was different from what I'd written in the past, how it would be a new genre for me, etc. She came back to me with the cover that is now being used for The Bird and the Sword, which didn't exist yet! I told her the cover was wonderful but it was totally wrong for From Sand and Ash. She was very cool about it, and we moved on with other cover ideas. When I started to get stirrings of ideas for The Bird and the Sword, I went back to her and asked for that cover. I knew it would be perfect for this fantasy book percolating in my head. So the cover was crafted before I'd written a single word. Funny how things work out.
Reader: I am wondering if Tiras initially planned to take Lark with him in the beginning, did he decide it after he had that experience with her in the woods (in hopes she could heal him), or did it just happen naturally?
A great deal was revealed in the cottage scene in Chapter 15. Tiras says: “I stole the clothes from the stable boy and a horse from your father. I rode back to where the army was camped, realizing that I’d almost died. Had it not been for you, I would have. I came back to find you, convinced you could heal me. When I realized who you were, and that you were unable to speak, I simply reacted, killing two birds with one stone, as they say. Your father has been plotting my death for as long as I’ve been alive. It was sweet justice that his daughter could save me.”
Reader: Lady Meshara's last words were, at first, I thought a curse of some kind. But as the book progressed it seemed it was more of a prophecy? If my theory is correct, then why was Lark physically unable to speak or make a sound? Or was it both a curse and a prophecy?
Boojohni has a bit of an epiphany in Chapter 28 which give the reader an idea that Lark’s mutism may be more emotional than physical. He says to Lark: “Maybe yer mother wasn’t forbidding ye to speak,” Boojohni hedged. “Perhaps she was just tellin’ yer father ye wouldn’t and tellin’ him to protect ye. To keep ye safe.” He continues later, “Meshara couldn’t do what ye do, Lark. Her gift was different. Her gift was one of knowing, of seeing, of warning. Ye are the one who can command.” Lark then asks him (mentally) why she can’t speak. Boojohni answers, “Maybe ye can. Ye were a wee child. Ye saw something terrible. Ye blamed yerself. Ye became afraid of yer words.”
So then we have to ask the question, did Lark know she could speak? My response to that is no. The mutism was very real for Lark. Her mother had made her promise to listen and obey only moments before when she’d been playing with the poppets. She sees her mother die because of something she created with her words. It is just as Boojohni says. She was a child who saw something terrible and she reacted by becoming silent. She truly believes her mother took away her words because of what she’d done.
Her mother, in the moments before her death, sees what will happen if the king kills her. And she ‘tells’ her husband and her daughter. She tells her daughter to be silent. Lark obeys. Meshara also tells her husband something that isn’t exactly a prophecy, though she wants him to believe it is. We know Meshara’s thoughts in that moment. She admits to the reader that she has to “make [her husband] believe, make him strong, if only for his own survival.” She knows her husband is weak. She knows only fear for himself will make him protect his daughter.
Reader: What was the writing process for this book? Was the plot fully developed when you started? Did you write everything in the moment?
No! I had pieces of ideas. Those pieces grew and flowered. I write incredibly slow because I am thinking, thinking, thinking while I write. I am not one who can outline a book beforehand. I have to start with a few ideas and some solid characters. As the story comes to life, little by little, more ideas reveal themselves. The awesome thing about writing is that you can go back and change and tweak sections to make it work for a new idea. I have an author friend who makes herself write sequentially. To me, that is madness. Write whatever comes to you, because that is where true creative power comes. So many little pieces and sparks come from the actual writing process of having your hands and your mind and your eyes engaged in the creative process of storytelling. Oprah once said that motivation comes in the doing. Your motivation will grow as you DO. I think this is true of inspiration. Inspiration is something that comes from actively DOING. I can’t just think about something and make it happen. I have to engage in the writing process, and by engaging, the creative channels open and I get my ideas.
Reader: Did you have all of the characters' roles known before starting the book, or did the ideas come as you wrote? (Kjell being a healer, Lady Firi being a changer, etc.)
No. I knew vaguely that Kjell and Lady Firi would have powers, but it took delving into the actual writing and letting the plot unfold before I knew how their Gifts would play into the story.
Reader: The question is, did you randomly rhyme the curses at the time of writing the scenes or were you prepared with the rhymes before or were there any inspiration behind them? I loved all those curses by the way.
Totally came up with the curses and rhymes as the scenes unfolded. As you can guess, this was VERY time consuming. I loved it though. I'm a poet at heart. I spent hours on the maiden song. It's so simple, but it was so pivotal to the story.
Daughter, daughter, Jeru’s daughter,
He is coming, do not hide.
Daughter, daughter, Jeru’s daughter,
Let the king make you his bride.
Daughter, daughter, Jeru’s daughter,
Wait for him, his heart is true.
Daughter, daughter, Jeru’s daughter,
‘Til the hour he comes for you.
Reader: I loved the spells and chants. You're a lyricist. Has anyone ever told you that? The way you write just sounds so, beautiful. Poetic. Do you write music? Does music inspire you when you are writing?
I have written music in the past, yes. I used to sing and write songs quite extensively. But I don’t listen to music when I write, usually. The words of the songs interfere with the words in my head.
Reader: At what point did you know it was Lark's words rather than Meshara's that caused Tiras to be more bird than man? Was that your intent all along, or did it happen as you were writing? By the way, I love how she takes the words back by saying them backwards.
I didn’t realize it until the very end. I always ask myself why, why, why when I write. Why this? And if this, why this? I also allow crazy solutions space to grow, but I’m also quick to remind myself that the simplest answer is sometimes the best. This brings me back to basics. With a fantasy novel, it is easy to be intimidated by the sheer power of possibility. You don’t have to follow normal rules---but that is where many fantasy books go wrong, in my opinion. You must follow the rules of relationships and character development and human instinct, etc. I think this book works because the relationship of Tiras and Lark is the heart of the story, and though it is fantasy, the struggles they face internally are very relatable.
Reader: Any chance Kjell will ever get his own story?
Kjell is definitely going to get a story. He is already speaking to me. I’m just allowing myself to think about him. I have lots of ideas. I’m thinking early 2017. I have a release in October – From Sand and Ash – a historical set in WWII. So we will give that book time to do its thing before I release another book from Jeru.
Reader: At one point in the book tells someone she doesn't want them to ever leave - is she speaking that into being?
Sleep my friend, with peaceful dreams, and never travel far from me. Lark says this little rhyme as Boojohni leaves her in her tent in the Valley of Kilmorda. It is a wishful thought, a sweet goodnight, not much else, though I’m sure Lark wishes it to be prophecy.
Reader: Are you a fan of fantasy, and did you have any idea people would think you did an amazing job with your first book in this genre?
Thank you! Tamara, my assistant, will attest that I had no idea whatsoever would happen with this one. I am a HUGE fan of romantic fantasy, but I tend to like stories where the heart of the story isn’t fantasy but romance. I am constantly in search of that book that is true romance. Not just sex, though that’s fine too. I want ROMANCE. I want heartbreaking, breath stealing relationships! I think that’s why I’ve never been a huge Potter head. I love the stories, love the writing, love the creativity, the lessons, all of it. But I need romance. I have never loved a book without that being at the core. Call me a stereotypical female. I am not picky with setting or genre – Sci Fi, Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary, suspense, action . . . . you name it, I like it, as long as there is a love story at the heart. I had no idea how this book would do. I just really wanted to write something that didn’t require research. After writing From Sand and Ash, which required so much research that I thought my head would explode, I wanted something totally different.
Reader: How enjoyable was a new genre for you? I know you said you think there will be more of Jeru, so I'm assuming you enjoyed it well enough.
I really enjoyed losing myself in Lark’s point of view. Because the story was fantasy, I could write lyrically using all the big words and poetic flavors that I wanted. It was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been with my natural writing style. It was a very easy fit. HOWEVER, writing this story was not easy in a lot of other ways. I always laugh when people say my writing is “effortless.” That’s a lovely compliment, because it means the words and story flow. But it takes a lot of effort to achieve effortless. There were scenes that took me DAYS to write. Battle scenes, for instance. The final battle scene was brutal. BRUTAL. So much had to be accomplished, so many threads brought together. And it had to be done in a very vivid action-type of scene. I don’t have any experience writing battle scenes. It was very hard, to say the least. I wanted to push back the publication date at the end because I just didn’t know if I could do it. I kept pushing and pushing, and I finished. I sent the last chapters to my editor and told her to be honest with me if I needed to spend more time on it. Luckily, she thought I nailed it.
Reader: I know you originally titled this The Sparrow and the Sword...was any of the story different? Was Lark a sparrow? How does the title tie into the story? When I started the book I thought that the heroine of the story was the Bird that the title suggests. Towards the end, however, I started to think she might be the sword.
The title was The Sparrow and the Sword in the beginning. The story itself—as much as was already written—was no different, but Lark’s name was Sparrow in the beginning. However, the book Sparrow by L.J. Shen came out a few months ago, and I did not want a book or character with even remotely the same name or title. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because by changing the name to The Bird and the Sword, it made the title very ‘ironic.’ It created a metaphor. Lark is both the bird AND the sword. Tiras is both the bird and the sword. But he isn’t a sparrow. So by titling the book The Bird and the Sword, it created a lovely irony that the reader gets to uncover.
Reader: How did you realize that she was the sword and he the bird?
I wrote the scene in Tiras’s tent, after the big battle in Kilmorda, early on in my writing process. When Lark says to Tiras, “I am not a weapon,” I realized that the title was about her, first and foremost. I love that scene.
Reader: It seemed like a lot of the characters had a power of some sort. How common was it?
Just like in our world, we all have gifts. We all have abilities. We hide them, we don’t develop them. We are embarrassed to use them or we don’t recognize them. It’s not so different from the Jeruvians. I think many Jeruvians were afraid and many were Gifted, as is revealed in the ending scenes.
Reader: I love that there are always meanings behind your characters' names and I am guessing Tiras has a meaning as well? I would love to hear about that because um... Tiras
In this book, I settled on Lark because a Lark is not a very quiet bird. A Lark sings. It is kind of funny that Lark can’t make a peep but she still makes herself heard. Tiras was actually chosen by a member of my fan group.
Reader: Are the characters' actions the result of freedom of choice or of destiny?
Isn't that one of the universally asked questions in our own lives? Is this destiny? Did I cause this to happen? Do I truly choose or does life just happen to me? I like to think that we choose, always. There are people and opportunities and trials that come our way, but ultimately who we are and what we do with our lives is all about choice. The ability to choose is our greatest gift.
Reader: With the original words the mother spoke, "You will lose your soul and your son to the sky." they thought they were two separate sentences, so to speak, right? That he'd lose his soul (die), and then lose his son to the sky. But it was actually you will lose both your son and your soul to the sky (since he also became a winged creature), right?
That's certainly one interpretation. Zoltev lost his son when he killed a woman in cold blood right in front of him. Tiras saw his father for the monster he was. That was what Meshara was prophesying. He lost his soul in that moment. Of course, he also gave himself over to all his base instincts, and eventually lost his soul. He lost his son to the sky, yes, but he lost his son period.
Reader: Was it easier or more difficult to write fantasy?
With every genre there are pros and cons, difficulties and benefits. When writing historical, you are bogged down by having to be accurate to an actual record, but you are also aided by true events, which helps to form the plot. With contemporary romance, the difficulty is to be original. With paranormal, the difficulty is to maintain reality while bending it. I think with fantasy, the best part is being able to let your imagination run wild. However, it also involves world building, which is quite challenging. My favorite scenes to write are those heavy with dialogue and monologue. Fantasy requires more description of setting and action, not to mention battle scenes that are completely outside my comfort zone. After completing ten books, I’m convinced writing is difficult, no matter the genre.
Reader: Did you know when you wanted Lark's words to return? Or did they return as you wrote the scene?
I always knew they needed to return, though I was back and forth on how it would occur. I wanted her to have a break through, both emotional and physical, but I didn’t know exactly how that would happen until the story began to unfold. I never know these things beforehand. It’s just not how I write.
Reader: Are you a bird or a sword?
I am both. We all are. I guess we choose which we want to be. But there is a time and place for both.
Reader: There are so many "lessons" we could take from this book. What was the message you wanted to put out into the world when you came up with the idea of TB&TS?
I always write with themes in mind. In this book, embracing differences in others and in ourselves is a big central theme. Each character had to learn to embrace who they were. Tiras had his 'coming out' moment when his whole city sees his wings. Lark has to face the fear of speaking, of using her words. Kjell has to get over his prejudices and his pre-conceived ideas.
Reader: Did Lark's father ever love her or her mother?
Some people love very selfishly. They can't forget themselves long enough to truly love. I think with Lord Corvyn, he was incredibly weak, which Meshara recognized. If he loved her or loved Lark, his concern for himself overshadowed those feelings. Sadly, there are lots of parents out there who suffer from selfishness.
Reader: Where did Boojohni's name come from?
My crazy brain. It was just suddenly there. Boojohni. Done.
Reader: Besides Tiras, how did you come up with all the fantasy-esque names?
Some of them are biblical, some of them simply just sprouted.
Reader: I was so frightened Tiras would not live . . . Did you initially plan for him to never return?
Never. I always planned for him to return. I just didn't always know how I would accomplish it.
Reader: Is Tiras and Lark's story finished, or would you consider a sequel?
I don't think I will have a story centered on them. They will most likely be characters in someone else's story. I just have a hard time staying interested in series books.
Reader: When Lark speaks of "ice" protecting her and Tiras acts as though he can see it, was this meant in the literal sense? Seems as how she can make fire and move objects, she could create ice.
No. It's figurative.
Reader: Did you know that Tiras' hair was going to turn white? I was so confused by that at first. It made sense once we found out that he was an eagle. Was it a part of Larks spell, since it turned black after the words were taken away.
It was indicative of him losing himself to the change. He begins losing other parts of himself . . eye color, his hands grow talons, and eventually he gets wings. The hair was a harbinger of other changes to come.
Reader: Why did the hair change come early and the other changes not happen until he was with Lark? The eyes, talons, etc. onset seemed to happen more rapidly.
I do feel like once he was with Lark things sped up, like being with her made her curse more potent. But he and Kjell were looking for a solution even before he met her, as things had started to worsen.
Reader: Did you enjoy writing this more than your other books because it was so different?
Enjoyment is a funny word. Every book is so damn hard. I'm not going to lie. It's WORK. And it's arduous. Some days when I sit down at my computer I get almost physically ill because I don't know if I can do it. There's a ton of pressure that comes with creating. But there were elements of this that were very enjoyable and if I could just write and never release books, I think it would be more pleasurable. But it's like anything else. You have to push through. I wish I could tell you it's all a lovely process, but it isn't. It's very painful most of the time. I do it because I love the end result.
Reader: Was Tiras' father always going to be the villain? I was kinda shocked because I was really thinking it was Lady Firi.
No. He wasn't. I mean, he was an early villain, but I didn't always know he would resurface. I didn't know Firi would turn out to be such a twat either, but that's the way she wanted to be . . . Seriously, these characters take on a life when I write.
Reader: Do you listen to music while writing? Did you have a playlist you listened during this story? Or specific song?
I can't usually listen to music with words. I do listen to classical sometimes. But the words in music mess up the words in my head.
Reader: When Lark went to the cottage looking for Tiras, she finds women's clothing there. I think I went into a denial state or something and may have glossed over this scene, but did Lark ever think that Tiras was in a relationship with another woman and thus that is why there were clothes there or did she really just think that someone had come across an abandoned cottage and started using it? And then when we find out that Firi was using it, did Tiras know that she (or someone) was using his cottage? I had a bad feeling about Firi from the beginning and wanted to warn Kjell away from her!!
I think most of us as women would have gone there, but incredibly, Lark doesn't. The reader gets no feeling whatsoever that Lark is fearful that Tiras has been unfaithful. She is perplexed by the clothing, as is the reader, but her mind never goes there. I don't think Tiras had any idea. Lady Firi 'used' the cottage, but it was really her attempts at interference, more than actual use.
Reader: Lark mentioned that it was relatively much more difficult for her to command living things/humans who have their own thought processes. E.g. when Lark tried to make Tiras dance, it doesn't work and Tiras says he doesn't feel compelled to do so. Then why was the word Mikiya given to Tiras when they were little made such a huge impact on him?
He was already Gifted, a Changer, although his gift hadn't revealed itself. So she didn't make him a Changer. She simply altered his abilities. My feeling was that pressing a word into his skin, saying it, willing it to come to pass with the blind faith of a child with incredible power, was much different than Lark spinning mental spells and rhymes. Her power was contained, to some extent. We watch as her power is snuffed out by her own grief, her mother's death, her fear, her isolation. She believes it is gone, only to have the power reemerge as she is given "back her words." Her power and her control grow as the book unfolds only to fully unleash at the end when she finds her voice and is able to take back the word she unknowingly cursed him with.